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  • Dylan Anderson

Routt County Humane Society says cases of dogs being dumped are on the rise

One dog was recently found tied to a tree in the Routt National Forest, while another was left on the side of the road at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.

A dog that recently arrived at the Routt County Humane Society was found tied to a tree in the Routt National Forest with a bowl nearby and a bag of dog food just out of reach. Another puppy was found on the side of U.S. Highway 40 at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.


To humane society executive director Elaine Hicks, it seems these dogs are not simply lost.


“My experience in Steamboat and Routt County is that when lost or stray animals are brought into the shelter, if they stayed overnight that was kind of an anomaly,” Hicks said. “Within the last two or three months, we have probably a 52% increase of animals who have not been reclaimed.”


“The animals that haven’t been reclaimed, have significant medical or behavioral issues, so it’s leading me to believe that animals are being dumped,” Hicks continued.


In the last two months, Hicks says the humane society has taken in 23 lost or stray animals, including dogs, cats and even a rabbit. As of this week, 11 of them were still sitting in one of the kennels at the shelter off of Critter Court in Steamboat Springs.


Animals are being brought in by animal control at a faster pace, and the number of dogs being brought in by members of the public are up about 10% as well. Typically, someone is there within the hour to pick up their pooch. The ones that never see their owner come to claim them tend to have medical of behavioral issues.

For example, Norman — the puppy found at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass. He came in with severe malocclusion, which means his upper and lower jaws are misaligned, making it hard to close his mouth. This has caused a puncture in his mouth, making it difficult for him to eat. He also has a healing bone fracture and an umbilical hernia. Hicks said they have spent more than $1,000 to help Norman.


For animals with behavior issues, Hicks said they put them on more intensive enrichment plans in an attempt to help make them a better fit to be adopted. This takes more time


“It’s increased our medical costs, increased our length of stay and has impacted our ability to move animals through adoption,” Hicks said. “It’s decreased our adoption revenue, which is what funds the shelter and supports our operations.”


But why would someone dump a dog in the forest or on the side of the road?


Hicks says the idea that people bought pets during the pandemic and are now having second thoughts is a misnomer. Instead, the animals they see surrendered are often brought in because of unstable housing situations.


Hicks said another humane society leader has pointed to a new law capping what landlords can charge on top of rent to allow pets as a potential contributor to an increase in stray animals, with landlords starting to adjust by not allowing pets ahead of the law going into effect until next year. The laws intent is to make it easier and less expensive for renters to have pets.


Simple economics are often at play as well due to strong inflation coming out of the pandemic, especially for animals with potentially costly medical needs or behavior issues.


“We’ve been getting calls from surrounding communities, Moffat County, people looking to surrender their animals and just every place is full,” Hicks said. “So people are kind of resorting to letting them go, and that is just something that, like I said, is an anomaly here.”


If you are facing steep medical bills for your dog, Hicks said you should reach out to the humane society and they can offer some financial support. If behavior is the issue, they can offer support in the home to deal with issues before an animal needs to be surrendered.


“Reach out and get some help before it reaches that point,” Hicks said. “There is financial assistance available for medical conditions especially.”


If looking to support the humane society, Hicks said they are always looking for volunteers to help socialize animals while at the shelter, especially those with behavior issues that need a little extra attention. Donations always help as well.


Coming in and adopting a dog, cat or rabbit would be fantastic as well, Hicks said.


“If people are looking for pets, check your local humane societies,” she said. “It’s not just our little community. It’s just more prevalent here because we’re so small, but it’s everywhere.”


Top Photo Caption: Norman, a five-month-old pit bull terrier mix that was found at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass, is looking for a good home. Norman has some health issues the Routt County Humane Society is helping him with, but is described as a very sweet, outgoing and playful pup that is making progress in learning proper manners and how to politely meet people and other dogs.

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